Brands under scrutiny

Brands used to be in the power seat. And that seat was enclosed within a black box where they were able to carefully curate the image they promoted to the outside world – ultimately shaping consumer perceptions.

Trendwatching’s recent report on Glass Box Brands  makes for a thought-provoking read on how that power has shifted and what it means to be a brand in today’s world.

The rise of transparency, user-based journalism, social media – and consumers’ increasing need for connectivity – has led to the black paint being scrubbed away to reveal ‘glass box brands’. In this guise, everything a brand does – both externally and internally – has the potential to be visible to the hearts and minds of consumers, readily scrutinising everything they see and hear about what brands are up to.

The report calls for brands to think (if they haven’t already) about how to deal with this increased level of scrutiny, particularly in terms of increasing public interest in a brand’s internal culture.

Although we agree that brands would do well to take a more 360-degree approach to nurturing brand image, past and present events suggest that if a brand plays a fundamental value and convenience function in the lives of consumers then we (as consumers) will be more willing to turn a blind eye to any of their indiscretions. We may wrestle with how the likes of, say Amazon, Starbucks, and Uber operate, however we won’t always vote with our feet. 

BUT we are seeing a shift…  

“The truth is that there is a high cost to a bad reputation.” Not our words, but the words of new Uber CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, in an open letter to his employees following the recent Transport for London ruling that denied them an operating licence.

What we’ve seen is Uber’s tone go from arrogance to humility. Khosrowshahi followed up with an open letter to London apologising and promising that his company will change. Music to consumers’ ears.

Michael O’Leary, CEO of RyanAir (notorious for his aggressive nature) also changed his tone in recent times. The airline ‘messed up’ their rosters and many flights were cancelled affecting more than 700,000 passengers. In comparison to his previous outbursts, he’s been uncharacteristically remourseful towards his passengers.

Is this a sign of things to come? Probably. It’s fine in consumers’ eyes to come along and shake things up. That’s what challenger brands do. However, when you’re successful and suddenly playing in the big leagues, things inevitably change. Consumers will scrutinise you and expect a decent level of customer service and ethics – in addition to the value and convenience you’ve been offering them. It would be absurd to disregard outsider opinion and expect no fallout. In Uber’s case, TfL pointed an uncomfortable spotlight in its face. If their response is anything to go by, we should eventually have more trust in them – not just in their reliable product but their reputation too.